Many a meat-eater today wants to believe the animals they consume had a good life, and even a good death. And slaughterhouses, along with our governments, want consumers to believe that, too. But even with clear government standards for humane slaughter in Canada, scenes from behind some abattoir walls can tell a very different story.
Undercover footage released last month by animal protection group Animal Justice shows “gentle cows, calves, sheep, goats, and llamas enduring illegal abuse and heartbreaking suffering,” according to the group. This includes workers beating animals in the face with canes, paddles, and electric prods, animals trying desperately to escape, animals being improperly stunned, and animals still showing signs of consciousness after being cut, claims Animal Justice.
After releasing the video, Animal Justice filed a legal complaint against Meadow Valley Meats with the B.C. SPCA, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Food Meat Inspection Program, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. B.C. SPCA is conducting an investigation into the allegations against the slaughterhouse, which prides itself on being “local” and “down to earth,” according to its website. With pictures of bucolic farmland and bright red cuts of meat, the company, like many in the food business, appears to be working hard to pull at the hearts and pockets of conscious consumers.
Federal and provincial standards require that apart from ritual slaughter, animals must be rendered unconscious prior to being hung up, stabbed and bled out. Depending on species, this is typically done via captive bolt gun, electrocution or gas chambers — all deemed by the government as “humane” methods of stunning (although we certainly wouldn’t put our pets down this way). But some animals are not properly stunned the first time.
The video footage released by Animal Justice shows bolt guns “jamming up and getting stuck in cows’ heads, and animals being shot repeatedly until they’re eventually unconscious,” according to the group. The narrator of the video says, “many cows, sheep and goats were regularly found to be conscious on the kill floor, and had to be stunned again.”
This is not an anomaly, though. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency allows for a margin of error for the first attempt at stunning animals at between one to four per cent, depending on species and method. Last year, 841 million land animals were slaughtered in Canada. You do the disturbing math.
“It’s shocking that even when the government is watching, this cruelty is still being committed,” says Animal Justice executive director Camille Labchuk.
Sectors of the meat, dairy and egg industries feed consumers new labels touting products as “humane” or “local” or “free range,” but regardless of placating marketing, there is no humane way to kill an animal who doesn’t want to die. The cow shot twice but still alive as he bleeds doesn’t care that he was farmed and killed locally.
“Killing animals is always messy,” says Labchuk. “They always fight for their lives.”
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Jessica Scott-Reid is a Winnipeg-based journalist and animal advocate.